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Juan Lagares could be key to Mets' future

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New York's Gold Glove center fielder has the potential to turn into a legitimate star if he continues to develop his overall game.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

No one disputes Juan Lagares's defensive ability. In spite of having only two shortened major league seasons under his belt, he is widely considered to be among the game's elite defenders. Lagares not only has good defensive metrics, but he also passes the eye test, attested by his countless highlight-reel catches. So while his fielding prowess isn't disputed, it wasn't until last season that Lagares started to flash overall skills that made him look like a future team MVP.

Lagares's rookie season in 2013 was nothing special offensively. He hit .242, stole only six bases, and posted a disappointing .633 OPS. He nevertheless finished that year with 3.5 bWAR, thanks largely to his defensive talent. Lagares's defense was impressive enough to nullify his offensive limitations and essentially guarantee him a job the following season as the Mets' starting center fielder.

Lagares turned in a solid offensive season in 2014, bringing his batting average up to .281, stealing 13 bases, and raising his OPS to a respectable .703. His 5.5 bWAR ranked seventh among all National League position players and his defense earned him his first Gold Glove Award. Moreover, a small 20-game stretch from August 22 through September 12 hinted that a major evolution of Lagares's game may be coming.

During that time, Lagares posted a .321/.353/.436 (.789 OPS) batting line, scored 11 runs, hit two home runs, drove in 13 runs, and stole nine bases. The nine stolen bases over that (admittedly small) sample of games is especially notable and opened a lot of eyes. Extrapolated over a full 162-game season—just for fun—that comes out to 73 stolen bases, which would be the most by a Met since Jose Reyes in 2007. Given that Lagares never stole more than 25 bases in a season during his entire professional career, there's very little chance that he can actually steal 73. But 30 stolen bases could be a reasonable expectation, especially if Lagares is able to stay healthy.

Lagares's power over that stretch may not be a fluke either. He seems to have put on some muscle during the offseason, which could translate into a few more home runs, especially given the closer fences at Citi Field. While he may never hit 20 home runs—or even 15—Lagares seems to have the type of extra-base-hit power to at least challenge the double-digit home run plateau next season. Combine this with a solid batting average, improving plate discipline (anything close to the .353 OBP that he flashed over his August-September offensive surge would be extremely helpful), more stolen bases, and his already-brilliant defense, and you get a potential difference-maker in the Mets' hopeful playoff hunt next season.

With some minor sustained improvements to his offensive approach, Lagares might no longer be considered "all glove, no bat;" instead, we could be looking at a perennial All-Star.